American beers beer reviews london pubs

The Rake at Christmas and Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout

If you want to get into the Christmassy spirit in London, a trip to Borough Market is a winner. Geese, game pies, mulled cider, and carol-singers under a tree. A real Dickensian wonderland (just wish they had Dickensian prices). All the better if you go on a weekday afternoon when you should be in work.

Having carefully selected some beers in Utobeer to go with Christmas dinner (more on that after Christmas) we retired to the Rake for a quiet drink or six. We hadn’t been for a few months – it’s rather difficult to get in the door in the evenings these days – and were pleased to see that what was on offer had changed considerably since the last time we were there. Not that there was anything wrong with the previous selection, it’s just good to see change and variety.

On tap; HopBack Entire Stout, O’Hanlon’s Goodwill, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, La Chouffe N’ice, Koestritzer Schwarzbier and I think Maisels’ Weisse. In bottles, another two hundred or so.

yeti.jpgOf the various beers we had, Goodwill was great in that it wasn’t just a standard bitter with some cinnamon in it. Instead, the brewers had gone for citrusy flavours and succeeded in creating a nicely balanced, warming bitter. Similar citrusy flavours abounded in Celebration Ale, which also tasted of peaches. La Chouffe was very tasty, but then at 10% it should be! All excellent beers.

But the star of the show was Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout (in bottles). Now, we’d had a few drinks beforehand, so I’m not sure in the cold light of the morning I’d be as bold as to say it was the best beer I’d ever tasted (which I said a few times last night to anyone who’d care to listen…) But it knocked our socks off sufficiently that we ordered another one straight afterwards, rather than try a new beer. It’s 9.5% and almost jet black, with a gorgeous mocha-coloured head. It reminded me of an amazing hot chocolate I once had in Spain, which was 85% cocoa solids. Incredibly chocolatey, thick and silky, but not at all sweet. It’s very bitter (it proudly boasts “75 bittering units”) but the hop bitterness blends perfectly with the cocoa bitterness. It’s a sledgehammer of a beer.

beer and food

Pretentious? Watashi?

Stout and Oysters is a classic combination. The problem is, neither of us much likes oysters, which is just as well, as they’re bleedin’ expensive.

But we do like sushi — especially the stuff that comes in polystyrene trays from the Japan Centre on Piccadilly.

bbporter.jpgLast night, we tried homemade “junkfood” salmon rolls with Black Boss, one of the Polish porters we picked up at the Great British Beer Festival.

We’ll tell you more about the beer in our forthcoming Baltic porter round-up but, for now, what we can say is: sushi and porter is a combination that works.

There didn’t seem to be any competing flavours, so both the beer and the food tasted distinct from each other.

With hindsight, we’d drink something a little drier and a little weaker — Titanic Stout would probably be perfect.

beer reviews

Homecoming beer: Thornbridge St Petersburg Stout

I’m back in the UK. We’d been saving a bottle of St Petersburg Stout for a while (“best after November 2007”) and it seemed like a good occasion to drink it. The brewery, Thornbridge produce a range of interesting beers, including Jaipur, which has been featured in many magazines this year. imperian-russian-stout.jpg

This “Imperial Russian Stout” is 7.7% and absolutely glorious. Extremely complex layers of flavours that linger a long time, with a flowery hoppy aroma. This may sound weird but the mix of vanilla, coffee, and milky notes reminded me of Bailey’s. But with a fantastic roasted chocolate-bitter kick at the end.

A fitting homecoming beer to remind me of the exciting brewing scene in this country.



Bailey’s stout cravings continue

stout.gifIt’s got cold in the UK this week. I’ve even thought about cracking out a coat or sweater, although I’ll probably stick to shirt sleeves until at least December.

But it’s not like I’m ignoring the cold — I’ve just started to drink an unusual amount of stout.

All the big breweries are wheeling out autumn beers, most of which seem (rather obviously) to be red. Despite a very nice pint of Moor Brewery’s Avalon Autumn at the Pembury Tavern on Sunday, it’s the thick black stuff I’m craving.

It was Sam Smiths Extra Stout on Saturday (great); Meantime’s London Stout last night (flat, sweet, boring); and a Guinness on the train back from the North this afternoon (free). A stout — even a mediocre one — is better than a blanket for keeping out the cold.

But what about when it gets really cold? you’re wondering. Well, that’s when the strong stouts will come out, I guess.

beer reviews

Sam Smith’s Extra Stout — a good beer, all of a sudden?

ssbadge.gifI occasionally drink Sam Smith’s Extra Stout (the one on the pumps) when I just want a half of something, and don’t fancy a “pure-brewed lager”. Usually, it’s a black and fluffy white Guinness clone, albeit one with marginally more flavour. But yesterday, I had a half in the Fitzroy which knocked my socks off.

1. It didn’t seem to have been nitro smooth-flowed to death — it was still creamy, but not like someone had put shaving foam on top.
2. The head was that pleasing tan you get on good stouts, instead of the usual glacial white.
3. It was warmer than usual (that is, several degrees above freezing).
4. The body wasn’t a scary, opaque, artificial black — it was dark red, and clear.
4. It was delicious: coffee, chocolate, a little note of sourness, and some salt — just perfect, to my mind.

What’s going on? Is there a cask variant which some pubs have and others don’t? (As is the case with some of Sam Smith’s bitters.) Or have they changed the recipe?

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find out. The brewery’s aversion to “modern ways” means they’re not online and don’t really do press releases. The bar staff in the pub were none the wiser, either. Hmm.